Video: How the food & water system is moving into the policy spotlight
As the food system becomes prominent in the global policy agenda, Felix Odey looks at the most recent trends and what to expect in the months ahead.
Why was the food system in the spotlight at COP28?
Until recently, the pivotal role of the food system was not reflected in COP agendas, with the focus entirely on the energy system, and energy usage in transport and industry.
At COP28, 130 heads of state and governments signed a declaration recognising the grave threat climate change poses to our ability to produce sufficient food.
They recognised that any path to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement must include agriculture and food systems and that it will require urgent adaptation.
This declaration is undoubtedly a positive step, but it is not enough.
Regulatory changes at a national level are what’s needed to achieve these goals.
The current price of food does not reflect the negative externalities associated with its production, transportation, and consumption.
Regulation that allows price mechanisms to reflect these environmental costs more accurately would drive yield enhancing and carbon efficient technology adoption, shifts in global diets away from resource intensive animal meats, and stimulate a reduction of waste and associated emissions from agriculture.
We do not invest based on hopes that uncertain regulation will drive company earnings.
However, under a business-as-usual scenario the food system is on track to use the world’s entire 1.5 to 2 degree carbon budget. This is expected to drive increased regulation, and potentially boost companies providing products and services that enable us to make the food system more resource efficient.
What are your near-term expectations for the food and water value chain?
The first half of 2023 bucked expectations, and even with rising rates, bank crises, and high inflation, the consumer remained resilient, and demand for agricultural inputs and equipment continued to recover.
This pivoted in the second half of the year as higher costs of capital, front loaded demand, and a less confident consumer showed in weaker volumes across the food and water subsectors, dragging on share price performance.
Today, we see again waning confidence in the consumer, and pessimism in the agricultural cycle.
The difference is that now we have already seen six months of weaker underlying demand, and weaker prices across crop and agricultural chemicals.
Likewise, we have seen destocking across the agricultural inputs, food and beverage packaging, food technology, ingredients, and vitamin space, potentially setting up for some restocking volume recovery in 2024.
Valuations and earnings expectations have also reset for much of the food and water system.
Everything except the water management, aquaculture and agricultural equipment subsectors have been trading at or near their five-year lows in terms of forward valuation.
This contrasts with the backdrop of the MSCI ACWI, which rallied an impressive 20% in 2023. The food and water universe is now experiencing its biggest discount in more than 10 years.
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